Ardbeg has a large and loyal following. It’s also an enormous brand with an unbelievable marketing machine behind them, powered by LVMH. But that hasn’t always been the case. Once upon a time the distillery struggled to survive and changed ownership several times.
The distillery fell silent for much of the 1980s and when it was reopened in 1989 it wrestled to stay alive. So much so, that it once again closed in 1996, despite already gaining traction as a cult distillery at the time. When it was bought by The Glenmorangie Company a year after (which became part LVMH in 2004), there was a strong foundation.
The distillery just needed to be loved. And beloved. Which happened rather quickly. The first age statement release was the Ardbeg 17 vatted from old stock. It took until 2008 for the Ardbeg Ten to be launched, distilled wholly by the new regime. The Ardbeg Ten was actually my first encounter with seriously peated whisky. And a memorable one at that.
But a 10-year-old Ardbeg has been around for much longer. The oldest one mentioned in Ardbeg Heavenly Peated, a book by Gavin D Smith and Graeme Wallace, was bottled in 1970.
I was graciously sent a sample of one of these older 10-year-old releases by Robbert (be sure to check out his blog post on the subject). He owns a 70cl bottle (pictured above), which would suggest it is from the 1990s. However, the aforementioned book suggests it was bottled a decade earlier.
Just to be on the safe side I’ll assume what I’m tasting is from the nineties, which is what experts seem to think (Gavin D Smith and Graeme Wallace not withstanding).
Ardbeg Guaranteed 10 Years Old (40%, OB, 1990s)
Nose: Pretty medicinal, much more so than I expected. But also hot tar, bandages, antiseptic and just whispers of straw, grilled pineapple and green olive oil. It’s rich and much more powerful than you’d expect at just 40% abv. Taste: The palate is comparatively austere but still very good. Notes of cardboard, some ashes, petrol and a nice salinity too. Whispers of cracked black peppercorns with a touch of iodine as well. Finish: Medium to long. A pinch of salt, oyster liquor, cigar tobacco and white chocolate.
A muscular, characterful single malt that packs a punch. This older Ardbeg 10 Years does not taste watered down all that much, even though it obviously is. It's also not all about peat. It obviously plays a big role, but it's not just wood smoke, but much more than that. Thanks to Robbert for sharing!